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Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Reduces Food Cravings in High Food Cravers

Abstract

Heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback has been reported to increase HRV while decreasing symptoms in patients with mental disorders. In addition, associations between low HRV and lowered self-regulation were found in non-clinical samples, e.g., in individuals with strong chocolate cravings or unsuccessful dieting. The current study aimed at decreasing food cravings with HRV-biofeedback in individuals frequently experiencing such cravings. Participants (N = 56) with strong or low food cravings associated with a lack of control over eating were selected from the local community. Half of the participants with strong cravings (craving-biofeedback; n = 14) performed 12 sessions of HRV-biofeedback while the other half (craving-control; n = 14) and a group with low cravings (non-craving-control; n = 28) received no intervention. Subjective food cravings related to a lack of control over eating decreased from pre- to post-measurement in the craving-biofeedback group, but remained constant in the control groups. Moreover, only the craving-biofeedback group showed a decrease in eating and weight concerns. Although HRV-biofeedback was successful in reducing food cravings, this change was not accompanied by an increase in HRV. Instead, HRV decreased in the craving-control group. This study provides preliminary evidence that HRV-biofeedback could be beneficial for attenuating dysfunctional eating behavior although specific mechanisms remain to be elucidated.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Initially, participants who were identified as high cravers were randomly assigned to either the biofeedback or the control group. However, when participants assigned to the biofeedback group were contacted and told that the study would require several lab visits for 4 weeks (further details were not mentioned), n = 3 participants indicated that they could not participate in the study because of time constraints. Those participants were then assigned to the control group.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this study was provided by a grant of the research training group 1253/2 which is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) by federal and Länder funds. DFG had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

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Correspondence to Adrian Meule.

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Meule, A., Freund, R., Skirde, A.K. et al. Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Reduces Food Cravings in High Food Cravers. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 37, 241–251 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-012-9197-y

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Keywords

  • Food cravings
  • Eating behavior
  • Cardiac autonomic regulation
  • Heart rate variability
  • Biofeedback